Who plays Esther in 'The Handmaid's Tale'? Meet Mckenna Grace

Mckenna Grace is a haunting standout of 'The Handmaid's Tale' season 5—here's where you've seen her before

Mckenna Grace attends the "Ghostbusters: Afterlife" New York Premiere at AMC Lincoln Square Theater on November 15, 2021 in New York City
(Image credit: Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage)

The Handmaid's Tale is packed with complex, complicated female characters, and Esther Keyes definitely fits into that category. 

Played by Mckenna Grace, the 14-year-old wife of the elderly Commander Keyes was first introduced in The Handmaid's Tale season 4. Esther, a survivor of abuse—when her husband isn't able to impregnate her, he allows his shockingly young wife to be raped by Guardians, Eyes and other Commanders—rages against the Gilead machine as part of the Mayday resistance, allowing June (Elisabeth Moss), Janine (Madeline Brewer) and other on-the-run handmaids to hide on her farm.

By the end of season 4, Esther's rebellion is discovered and she's captured as a handmaid, which is where we find her in The Handmaid's Tale season 5, which premiered on Hulu on Wednesday, September 14. “She’s going to put up a fight. I hope that she isn’t just done and gives up, because I don’t think that’s who she is,” Grace told The Hollywood Reporter.

But the Hulu hit isn't the only high-profile role that actress Mckenna Grace has this fall—she's also at the center of A Friend of the Family, Peacock's upcoming true crime series based on the Jan Broberg kidnappings. Here's what to know about the rising star and where you've seen her before. 

Who plays Esther in 'The Handmaid's Tale'? Meet Mckenna Grace

Esther Keyes is portrayed by Mckenna Grace in The Handmaid's Tale. Grace is a 16-year-old American actress and singer hailing from Grapevine, Texas, who has been working professionally in TV and film since she was six. 

Mckenna Grace movies and TV shows

Mckenna Grace is most known for her lead roles opposite Chris Evans in 2017's Gifted, for which she received a Critics' Choice nomination, and 2021's Ghostbusters: Afterlife. She's also featured in TV series like Crash & Bernstein, The Young and the Restless, Young Sheldon, The Haunting of Hill House and Fuller House.

She's also humorously made a career of playing the younger versions of famous characters and factual people, including Carol Danvers in Captain Marvel, Sabrina Spellman in Netflix's Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Daphne Blake in the 2020 animated film Scoob!, and Tonya Harding in I, Tonya. Of the unplanned casting trend, Grace told Variety: "It's really funny. I don't know how that ended up happening. But I'm really glad that it did, because I definitely got to learn from all of the actresses that I played younger versions of."

Despite a significant resemblance between the two blonde actresses, Mckenna Grace and Kiernan Shipka aren't related. However, the producers of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina took advantage of their uncanny likeness by casting Grace as the younger version of Shipka's title character in the first season of the show. 

Mckenna Grace awards and nominations

In 2018 and 2019, The Hollywood Reporter named her one of the top 30 stars under age 18. For her performance in The Handmaid's Tale, she was nominated for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series at the 73rd Emmy Awards.

Mckenna Grace 'A Friend of the Family'

In the new Peacock miniseries, A Friend of the Family, Mckenna Grace plays Jan Broberg, the real-life young girl who was kidnapped not once but twice in the 1970s by Robert Berchtold (The White Lotus star Jake Lacy), a close friend of her family. 

The story of Jan Broberg, who produced the Peacock series herself, was also the subject of the true-crime documentary, Abducted in Plain Sight, from director Skye Borgman (Girl in the Picture, I Just Killed My Dad, Sins of Our Mother). 

Christina Izzo

Christina Izzo is the Deputy Editor of My Imperfect Life. 

More generally, she is a writer-editor covering food and drink, travel, lifestyle and culture in New York City. She was previously the Features Editor at Rachael Ray In Season and Reveal, as well as the Food & Drink Editor and chief restaurant critic at Time Out New York

When she’s not doing all that, she can probably be found eating cheese somewhere.